One of the best parts of where I currently live is, believe it or not, my gym. Not only is my gym state of the art, it also has the best childcare imaginable. For one, the rubber-floored colourful playroom is fully loaded with great toys and a play structure similar to what they have at McDonald’s. Secondly and most importantly, the childcare staff is amazing. The training they go through has to be excellent. What I love the most is the genuine care they show for the children there. They love my kids and, in turn, my kids really love them. They show such heart, affection, appropriate discipline, and care. As a result, I feel great leaving my two little ones with them, when normally I would feel tentative.
A couple of weeks ago, I entered into the playroom to experience an unusual situation. There were two very young toddling boys who were distraught. And by distraught, I mean they were completely beside themselves. Now crying children in a playroom is hardly surprising. Anyone who has worked with the under 5 crowd can surely attest to the fact there can be a lot of crying. What surprised me was this was the first time I’d been seen a child crying in the playroom that was not being held or consoled. Since that first encounter, each time I’ve come into the gym at the same time, I’ve seen the same two boys and they’re always crying.
I finally had to ask, “What’s going on?”
I got my answer.
“The mom has explicitly asked us to ignore the crying and just let them cry it out.” The childcare giver continued, “You know, we don’t do this normally. But we have to respect the wishes of the parents. Not only are they upset now, it doesn’t get any better. They cry the full hour each and every time.”
This exchange got me thinking. First of all, I have no doubt the mom at the gym is doing the best based on the best of her knowledge. I mean, how could she not? She must love her two boys to bits and wants the absolute best for them. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if that mom had gotten some of the same early parenting advice I had gotten. And if so, perhaps this impacting was her decision to let her kids cry.
Like many new parents, when my daughter was a newborn, I would hold her often. Like, a lot.
In time, some people started to notice.
And soon, I started hearing it.
“You’re going to spoil your baby.”
What my “advisors” meant was that I was holding my baby way too much. And as a result, my newborn girl would get used to constantly being comforted and expect it. Soon, I would have a child dependent on me for the most basic level of comfort.
So can you Spoil a Baby?
One of the thoughts that came to mind after seeing the crying set of twins at the gym was that of attachment theory. When it comes to understanding if you can spoil your baby, attachment theory is the best way to get your answer. The parent-child relationship is at the centre of this theory. Specifically, how a parent or caregiver responds to their infant determines whether a child securely attaches or not. This is where our answer lies. A parent who ignores a baby’s need for comfort or basic nurturing can lead to an insecure form of attachment. Due to a lack of responsiveness from their parents, young children either become more difficult to console or are more emotionally ambivalent. Securely attached children, on the other hand, will feel upset when their caregiver leaves, but will eventually compose themselves. They seek their parents for comfort. These young children understand that Mom or Dad are dependable when they’re crying or upset. To read more about the different types of attachment including the different variations on insecure attachment, click here.
So, you can spoil your baby; it’s just not the way you would think
Taking the immense amount of research on the attachment theory into account, spoiling a baby is possible – just not in the way the old wives tale would have us believe. An infant or young child who comes to expect their parent for security actually becomes more independent. These young children start to view their caregivers as a secure base. Because they know their parents will be there when they need them, these kids feel empowered to venture out into their environment and, eventually, the world. Conversely, a parent who backs away from their child when their child needs them creates insecurity and uncertainty.
And so, negatively impacting, or spoiling your baby is possible. And, it does become possible based on the frequency we respond to their cries and the amount we hold them. The necessary caveat to this that not holding and responding to our children is proven to do more harm than help. Responding, holding and consoling our babies is, in fact, the best way to parent during this tender age.
All identifying information about people mentioned in this post has been changed to protect their identity.